In August last year, during a ‘cubbing’ meet held by the Blackmore & Sparkford Vale Hunt, their huntsman Mark Doggrell seriously injured a female hunt saboteur by running her over with his horse. Nid, as she is known in the sabbing community, was left with seven broken ribs, a collapsed lung and a damaged shoulder.
The incident was filmed by the sabs, and Doggrell arrested and charged. Both the ‘sabs’ and the police felt they had a good case. The Crown Prosecution Service thought otherwise. Last month they refused to prosecute on ‘insufficient evidence’. The Hunt Saboteur Association immediately made the video public. People were outraged at what they saw – the brutality of the attack, and the fact that Doggrell rode on without a glance over his shoulder at the unconscious body on the ground.
A petition circulated, demanding the CPS reconsider. Nid herself wrote to the CPS, asking them to review the case – which they are now doing. What else can they do, when people have seen for themselves what happened? The sabs and their many supporters are keeping up the pressure. On Sunday March 8 they held a peaceful protest at the big money-raising event of the year for the Hunt – the annual point-to-point race meeting.
In their wish to see justice for Nid, sabs had come from far and wide, the assault on her by Doggrell having stirred up huge anger among anti-hunting people. Hunting has often been seen, by those who support it, as a ‘class issue’ on the part of those who don’t – townies against the countryman. But what kind of ‘class’ do the hunt followers belong to; for it is they who are mostly responsible for the violence (those on the horses are more notable for their arrogance than hands-on thuggery).
They follow the hunt on their quad bikes, racing across fields and farmers’ crops and, where horses can jump the hedges, the followers pull gates off hinges and tear down fences to gain access for their bikes. They are the thugs who take pleasure in beating up anti-hunt people and, as happened at one recent meet, trashing a sab Land Rover and its equipment, before being pursued by the police helicopter.
And they take children with them. Speaking to a sab the day after the protest, I was told how upsetting it is to see the terror-stricken faces of the children as the quad bikes speed, bump and skid through the mud. How many unreported accidents are there, and what do they learn, these kids? That life is brutal and full of fear, and that the only way to beat the fear is to bully and threaten others.
The incident of the trashed Land Rover started with a man leaping off his quad bike, going to the Land Rover, breaking the driver’s window by hitting it with his elbow before punching the driver in the face. Then he was helped by other hunt followers joining in the attack. And he had, as a passenger on the back of his quad bike, and sitting there watching all this violence, a 7-8 year-old child.
The sabs had generously been given a parking area just outside the racecourse. Hunt security men tried to block them from entering this site until the police intervened. But – every car carrying protestors was filmed by the pro-hunt side. This is common practice (it happened during the badger culls too), and many sabs have been targeted at their homes, traced by their vehicle numbers.
With hundreds of vehicles full of race-goers expected and a single track between fields the only route to the course, some protestors lined the track with their placards, while many of the sabs stood across it, blocking the long queues of cars and horse boxes. As the police were allowing this, drivers had to be patient. The pro-hunt lads were not. One protester had his banner bashed aside with a stick. The same stick was then used on another (female) protestor’s legs.
There was a little violence, and one female sab was temporarily arrested while trying to prevent more cars from entering the racecourse. She was bodily thrown down into the mud several times by Hunt security men but kept getting up and trying again. It was perhaps not the best thing to do at what was meant to be a peaceful protest, but she was shaking with both fear and anger, and the anger kept her going.
It was clear the police, who succeeded in keeping the two sides apart, thought any trouble was going to come from the hunt followers. Any orders seemed to be directed at them, rather than the sabs.
One hunt follower, asked if he had seen the film, implied it had been Photoshopped, while some were ignorant of what the film showed. Yet another, escorting two protestors onto the course so they could buy some coffee (the Hunt apparently thought they would upset the horses), felt the sabs shouldn’t be asking for Mark Doggrell to be sacked because “he’s a good family man.” Such as his father, who has been banned from riding with the B&SV Hunt because of his behaviour.
The heavy brigade hung around until the sabs had left – all but two women and myself talking to a police officer. Then over 15 of them crowded round us, pressing closer and closer in a tight circle – until the very nice man in charge of arranging the security for the Hunt intervened and moved them on. But it was disturbing to see that several of them were in their very early teens, trying to emulate their elders and seeking looks of approval from them. Presumably they were learning how to grow up into ‘good family men’ like Mark Doggrell. So brave they are, these bully boys who kill foxes.
11/03/15 © Lesley Docksey
(First published by the Morning Star)